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Robert Frost

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Topics: Poetry
Frost’s poems deal with man in relation with the universe. Man’s environment as seen by frost is quite indifferent to man, neither hostile nor benevolent. Man is alone and frail as compared to the vastness of the universe. Such a view of “man on earth confronting the total universe” is inevitably linked with certain themes in frost’s poetry.

One of the most striking themes in Frost’s poetry is man’s isolation from his universe or alienation from his environment. Frost writes in “Desert Places”, “The loneliness includes me unawares”. Man is essentially alone, as is borne out in frost’s poetry.Man is alone in the countryside or in the city in “Acquainted with the Night”.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
But not to call me back or say good-by;
In “Home Burial”, the lady suffers from a terrible sense of self-alienation, as well as alienation from her surroundings. And, more than the physical loneliness, man suffers from the loneliness within.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
A concern with barrier is the predominant theme in Frost’s poetry. Man is always erecting and trying to bring down barriers-- between man and environment, between man and man. To Frost, these barriers seem favorable to mutual understanding and respect. Frost insists on recognizing these barriers instead of trying to tear them down as in the modern trend. And he even builds them wherever necessary.

Practically all of Frost’s poems depict the theme of human limitation. The universe seems chaotic and horrific because man’s limited faculties cannot comprehend its meaning. Walls, physical and real, mental and invisible, separate man from Nature. “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep” shows man’s limitation concerning the mysterious universe. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” conveys the sense of an impenetrable and indefinite universe. Frost’s human beings are aware of the gap between the ideal and the actual. The apple-picker had set out on his work with great hopes, but faces disillusionment.
For I have too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
In some poems, however, Frost does indicate that man can exceed his limitations in his thought as in “Sand Dunes”.

Theme of extinction or death also runs through the major themes of Frost. In many a poem he writes of “sleep” which is associated with death. “Fire and Ice” is a noteworthy poem on destruction by excess of desire or hatred. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, “After Apple Picking”, “An Old Man’s Winter Night”, all these poems have a reference to death. “Directive” is a poem in which three of Frost’s most obsessive themes isolation, extinction and the final limitations of man are blended. Each life is shown to be pathetic because it wears away into death. The poem dismays but it also consoles.

In most of Frost’s poems, the speaker undergoes a process of self-discovery. The wood-chopper of “Two Tramps in Mud Time” realizes by the end of the poem that he chops wood for love of work only but love and need should not be separated.

Theme of affirmation is also found in some of his poems. Frost ultimately presents the need for man to make the most of his situation. Aware of man’s limitations, he yet desires man to explore and seek knowledge and truth. Man should learn to accept things and his limitations cheerfully. He suggests stoical will and effort in the face of adversity as in “West Running Brook”. In the face of the mystery and riddle of life there is necessity for determined human performance.
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I Sleep
And miles to go before I Sleep
Theme of love is central to Frost’s poems. If there is any force that can help man meet the challenges of the universe, it is love. In several of Frost’s poems, the significance of love between man and woman, or friendly love is brought out. It is when love breaks down or fades off that life becomes unbearable especially for the women in Frost’s poetry.

The major themes as discussed above are expressed through various devices. The symbolic significance invested in certain recurring objects like the stars, the snow, the woods serve to bring home to the reader all the more vividly the position of Man in the Universe.

Emily dikinson Major Themes
Death is one of the foremost themes in Dickinson’s poetry. No two poems have exactly the same understanding of death, however. Death is sometimes gentle, sometimes menacing, sometimes simply inevitable. In “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –,” Dickinson investigates the physical process of dying. In “Because I could not stop for Death –,“ she personifies death, and presents the process of dying as simply the realization that there is eternal life.
In “Behind Me dips – Eternity,” death is the normal state, life is but an interruption. In “My life had stood – a Loaded Gun –,” the existence of death allows for the existence of life. In “Some – Work for Immortality –,” death is the moment where the speaker can cash their check of good behavior for their eternal rewards. All of these varied pictures of death, however, do not truly contradict each other. Death is the ultimate unknowable, and so Dickinson circles around it, painting portraits of each of its many facets, as a way to come as close to knowing it as she can.
Truth and its tenuous nature
Dickinson is fascinated and obsessed with the idea of truth, and with finding it in her poems. She knows that this is close to impossible—like “To fill a Gap” teaches, answering one question just leads to further questions—yet she also posits that a kind of truth can be found, if done so circuitously, as in “Tell all the Truth but tell it Slant –.”
This is reflected in how she deals with all of her other themes. Her poems come back to these central themes again and again, but they are never treated in exactly the same way. She discovers new sides to each of them, comes at them from new angles, and by investigating each theme again and again in seemingly contradictory ways, she is finding the truth in her “Circuits.”
Dickinson also clearly shows that truth is found more easily in negative or painful emotions. In “I like a look of Agony,” she shows how she can only trust people who are dying, because that is the one thing that cannot be faked. Her own grief and others’ is powerful to her, because, while it may not be pleasant, she has found something honest. And this drives her poetry—the experience of these painful emotions allows her to represent them faithfully, and thus write honest poetry.
Fame and success
Dickinson wrote many poems dealing with fame and success. These poems almost always elucidate the negative sides of these ostensibly positive things. In “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” to gain fame one must advertise oneself, use one’s own name and identity as marketing tools. This fame, also, is made meaningless by the fact that its audience is an unthinking “Bog.”
“Success is counted sweetest –“ does not present quite so wholly negative a vision of fame and success. Success here, however, is dangerous, for it takes away the speaker’s ability to appreciate that success. This represents a general lessening of the successful person’s emotional realm, and if this success is in the field of poetry, that will certainly lead to weaker poems in the future.
This focus on the negatives of fame and success makes it seem like Dickinson did not want them for herself, that she was happier unpublished and unknown. This is belied, however, by the simple fact that she wrote about them so frequently. She may have known very well the dangers of them, but clearly still found fame and success enticing and fascinating.
Grief is virtually omnipresent in Dickinson’s poetry. Other characters are few and far between in these poems, but grief is practically Dickinson’s primary companion. When other people do appear, it is often only grief that allows Dickinson to feel connected to them. She only trusts people who display “a look of Agony,” because it is the only emotion that she knows must be true -- thus it is only with the dead and dying that Dickinson’s wall of distrust collapses.
In “I measure every Grief I meet,” grief does not just bring Dickinson closer to others because she can trust it, but rather because it is a bond between them, and knowing they are grieving too makes her burden of grief somewhat lighter. Thus, in “I like a look of Agony,” and “I measure every Grief I meet,” it is only grief that allows Dickinson to feel that she is a part of the community.
Dickinson also shows another positive side of grief—it gives her strength. In “I can wade Grief –“ she makes it clear that happiness only intoxicates her, makes her stumble and ostensibly lose her great perceptive abilities. Grief, however, emboldens her, makes her able to face anything, and gives her the strength and perceptiveness to write the poetry that she does.
Dickinson’s poetry is highly interested in faith, in God, in religion. The fact that she so often wrote in a traditionally religious hymnal stanza form emphasizes this fact. God is essential to her, yet she is unwilling to just accept the traditional dogma, and so explores other possibilities for faith in her poetry, just like while she follows stanza form, she breaks conventions of rhyme and punctuation.
Often, many of her poems about nature seem to be the most religious. “There’s a certain Slant of light –“ presents this light as almost a divine vision, and shows how nature can be very closely tied to God, yet can also distance the reader from him. “The Bat is dun, with wrinkled Wings –,” shows that it is the ugly, eccentric creatures who can bring us closest to an understanding of God.
Her poems never claim to any understanding of the divine, however. What she is most certain of is God’s inscrutability. Indeed, it is only her relationship to him that she can fully investigate. In many of her poems in which there is another figure besides the speaker, it is often unclear whether this figure is God or a lover, and these poems can often be read either way. This elucidates the profound closeness with God that Dickinson searched for.
Freedom through poetry
Poetry in Dickinson’s poems is an expansive, greatly liberating force. In “They shut me up in Prose –,“ society tries to limit the speaker to the acceptable female roles, shutting her in closets or in prose to prevent her from expressing herself. These limitations, however, only inspire her further, and fuel her to write her poetry. This they cannot limit, no matter how they try, for poetry is limitless, as she shows us in “I dwell in Possibility –“ — it is a house with no roof but the sky.
This metaphor of poetry as house also allows Dickinson to transform what oppresses her—those female tasks of running the household—into a setting for what frees her—her poetry. This metaphor also allows Dickinson to take possession of poetry—it is not solely a male vocation, in the realm of politics and wars, but also a female vocation, situated in the house and garden.
Intensity of emotion
Dickinson’s poetry exhibits a profound intensity of emotion, and her poems also focus on this as a subject, extolling the virtues of such intensity. In “I like a look of Agony,” she shows that only the most intense emotions can be trusted, can be exhibited for others with honesty—and thus, only the most intense emotions belong in poetry.
“Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?” shows, however, that while positive, this level of emotional intensity is neither easy to produce and experience, nor is it easy to observe. In this poem, the speaker must enact a painful forging process to refine her emotions to this heightened level, and while it is glorious, almost divine when she does, it is still a challenging thing for the reader to observe.
“The first Day’s Night had come” shows just how dangerous such intensity of emotion can be; why the reader must “dare” to witness it. In this poem, the speaker’s emotions are so overpowering that she cannot maintain a whole, incorporated identity, and she loses her mind. Thus while most of Dickinson’s poems extol the honesty in heightened emotions, we see that there is a risk in all of this. Major Themes
Frost places a great deal of importance on Nature in all of his collections. Because of the time he spent in New England, the majority of pastoral scenes that he describes are inspired by specific locations in New England. However, Frost does not limit himself to stereotypical pastoral themes such as sheep and shepherds. Instead, he focuses on the dramatic struggles that occur within the natural world, such as the conflict of the changing of seasons (as in "After Apple-Picking") and the destructive side of nature (as in "Once by the Pacific"). Frost also presents the natural world as one that inspires deep metaphysical thought in the individuals who are exposed to it (as in "Birches" and "The Sound of Trees"). For Frost, Nature is not simply a background for poetry, but rather a central character in his works.
Communication, or the lack thereof, appears as a significant theme is several of Frost's poems, as Frost presents it as the only possible escape from isolation and despair. Unfortunately, Frost also makes it clear that communication is extremely difficult to achieve. For example, in "Home Burial," Frost describes two terrible events: the death of a child and the destruction of a marriage. The death of the child is tragic, but inability of the husband and wife to communicate with each other and express their grief about the loss is what ultimately destroys the marriage. Frost highlights this inability to communicate by writing the poem in free verse dialogue; each character speaks clearly to the reader, but neither is able to understand the other. Frost explores a similar theme in "Acquainted with the Night," in which the narrator is unable to pull himself out of his depression because he cannot bring himself even to make eye contact with those around him. In each of these cases, the reader is left with the knowledge that communication could have saved the characters from their isolation. Yet, because of an unwillingness to take the steps necessary to create a relationship with another person, the characters are doomed.
Everyday Life
Frost is very interested in the activities of everyday life, because it is this side of humanity that is the most "real" to him. Even the most basic act in a normal day can have numerous hidden meanings that need only to be explored by a poetic mind. For example, in the poem "Mowing," the simple act of mowing hay with a scythe is transformed into a discussion of the value of hard work and the traditions of the New England countryside. As Frost argues in the poem, by focusing on "reality," the real actions of real people, a poet can sift through the unnecessary elements of fantasy and discover "Truth." Moreover, Frost believes that the emphasis on everyday life allows him to communicate with his readers more clearly; they can empathize with the struggles and emotions that are expressed in his poems and come to a greater understanding of "Truth" themselves.

Isolation of the Individual
This theme is closely related to the theme of communication. The majority of the characters in Frost's poems are isolated in one way or another. Even the characters who show no sign of depression or loneliness, such as the narrators in "The Sound of Trees" or "Fire and Ice," are still presented as detached from the rest of society, isolated because of their unique perspective. In some cases, the isolation is a far more destructive force. For example, in "The Lockless Door," the narrator has remained in a "cage" of isolation for so many years that he is too terrified to answer the door when he hears a knock. This heightened isolation keeps the character from fulfilling his potential as an individual and ultimately makes him a prisoner of his own making. Yet, as Frost suggests, this isolation can be avoided by interactions with other members of society; if the character in "The Lockless Door" could have brought himself to open the door and face an invasion of his isolation, he could have achieved a greater level of personal happiness.
Duty is a very important value in the rural communities of New England, so it is not surprising that Frost employs it as one of the primary themes of his poetry. Frost describes conflicts between desire and duty as if the two must always be mutually exclusive; in order to support his family, a farmer must acknowledge his responsibilities rather than indulge in his personal desires. This conflict is particularly clear in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," when the narrator expresses his wish to stay in the woods and watch the snow continue to fall. However, he is unable to deny his obligation to his family and his community; he cannot remain in the woods because of his "promises to keep," and so he continues on his way. Similarly, in "The Sound of Tree," Frost describes a character who wants to follow the advice of the trees and make the "reckless" decision to leave his community. At the end of the poem, the character does not choose to leave (yet) because his sense of duty to those around him serves as the roots that keep him firmly grounded.
Rationality versus Imagination
This theme is similar to the theme of duty, in that the hardworking people whom Frost describes in his poetry are forced to choose between rationality and imagination; the two cannot exist simultaneously. The adults in Frost's poetry generally maintain their rationality as a burden of duty, but there are certain cases when the hint of imagination is almost too seductive to bear. For example, in "Birches," the narrator wishes that he could climb a birch tree as he did in his childhood and leave the rational world behind, if only for a moment. This ability to escape rationality and indulge in the liberation of imagination is limited to the years of childhood. After reaching adulthood, the traditions of New England life require strict rationality and an acceptance of responsibility. As a result of this conflict, Frost makes the poem "Out, Out--" even more tragic, describing a young boy who is forced to leave his childhood behind to work at a man's job and ultimately dies in the process.
Rural Life versus Urban Life
This theme relates to Frost's interest in Nature and everyday life. Frost's experience growing up in New England exposed him to a particular way of life that seemed less complicated and yet more meaningful than the life of a city dweller. The farmers whom Frost describes in his poetry have a unique perspective on the world as well as a certain sense of honor and duty in terms of their work and their community. Frost is not averse to examining urban life in his poetry; in "Acquainted with the Night," the narrator is described as being someone who lives in a large city. However, Frost has more opportunities to find metaphysical meaning in everyday tasks and explore the relationship between mankind and nature through the glimpses of rural life and farming communities that he expresses in his poetry. Urban life is "real," but it lacks the quality and clarity of life that is so fascinating to Frost in his work. Robert Frost [1874-1963]
Relevant Background * Robert Frost was born in San Francisco. He lived most of his life on farms in the state of New England, on the eastern side of America. His rich grandfather bought him a farm. * He went to university at Dartmouth College in 1892, and later Harvard, but never gained a formal degree. * Overall, he had a difficult childhood and a lot of personal loss and grief in his adult life. At times he suffered chronic depression. * He was one of America's leading 20th-century poets and a four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. * Among his early jobs, he taught school and worked in a mill and as a newspaper reporter. He remained a teacher and lecturer for much of his life. * His poetry is the story of a man who escaped to the country, because he felt his vocation was to be alone. By his own admission he was ‘unwilling to explain’ his life choice, but his poetry is a symbolic record of his reflections and realizations. * Frost is often called a pastoral poet, a poet who portrays the benevolent side of country life. This is true in the sense that he expressed the beauty of the landscape of New England in his poetry. But there was usually a dark or troubled spirit at work in his poems. Nature is not always benevolent in Frost’s poems. * Though he was referred to as a nature poet, Frost disliked this label because he usually included people in his poetry. Frost’s poetry is known for its country philosophy and wisdom. Yet there is an edgy and critical commentary on human life lurking in many of his poems. Frost was not just a happy and easy-going woodland philosopher. * Frost was a poet of deep thoughts. Behind his descriptions of nature and everyday activities, you can find a deeper meaning. When he described events, Frost usually had a moral point or strange observation to make. He explored an indifferent universe with its mysteries of darkness and irrationality. * Frost wrote in a clear and easy to understand manner, unlike many of the more experimental twentieth century poets. Frost was both down-to-earth and understated. He was a poet of ironic insight. * Frost was a poet of searching and often dark meditations on universal themes. * His portraits have a psychological complexity. He may appear simple but his poetry is profound. His poetry has layers of ambiguity and irony. * His verse forms are traditional and have a discernable shape and pattern. * Some of his poems have a strict line rhyming pattern. Many of his poems are written in blank verse [un-rhyming lines], which pre-dates Shakespeare. * When he began as a poet, Frost disliked the modern free verse. Its lack of regular pattern didn’t appeal to him. But he adopted its rhythms as he matured. * Frost liked to write poetry in the language he heard spoken everyday. The many everyday phrases in his poetry show this aspect of his style. This trait makes his poetry modern. * In many of his poems, his rhythm is based on the way the human voice groups or assembles words and sounds in spoken English. While many of his poems have a regular number of syllables and would fit into a traditional system of poetic rhythm, it is better to listen for the rhythm of the everyday speaking voice in Frost’s poems. * Frost, therefore, is a blend of the traditional and modern poet. Some of his poems have regular lines of ten syllables. This type of line was traditionally divided into ten units of sound. Often in a Frost line of ten or so syllables, there are four units of sound based on the natural rhythm of speech.
1. Frost explored the relationship between humanity and nature. Frost’s pastoral scenes are often sources of philosophical insights:
‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference’ [The Road]
‘Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree’ [The Birches]
‘He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him’ [Mending Wall]
‘And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other’ [Out, Out]
‘The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn’ [The Tuft]
‘The trees…let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers’ [Spring Pools]
‘What but design of darkness to appal? —
If design govern in a thing so small’ [Design]
‘I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired’ [Apple Picking]

2. Frost believed that human beings live isolated lives, despite being in close proximity to each other:
‘We keep the wall between us as we go’ [Mending Wall]
‘Good fences make good neighbours’ [Mending Wall]
‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less travelled by’ [The Road]
‘And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs’ [Out, Out]

‘And I must be, as he had been— alone,
“As all must be,” I said within my heart,
“Whether they work together or apart”.' [The Tuft]

‘Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him’ [The Tuft]
‘When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street, But not to call me back or say good-bye’ [Acquainted]
‘Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself
Summer or winter, and could play alone’ [Birches]
‘No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard’ [Provide Provide]
3. While Frost often emphasised human loneliness and alienation, he sometimes believed that human solidarity really existed. In some poems, Frost believed that despite our separation as individuals, humans are social beings. At times he felt the exhilaration of spiritual bonds with people; at other times he felt the need to even purchase friendship.
[Argue Frost’s ambivalent attitude to isolation and intimacy by considering the quotes used for theme 2 and the additional quotes below for theme three]

‘And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone’ [Tuft]
‘ “Men work together,” I told him from the heart,
“Whether they work together or apart”.' [Tuft]
‘I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line’ [Mending Wall]
‘Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all’ [Provide Provide]
4. Frost attempted to get at the heart of the mystery of living:
‘And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth’ [Road]
‘Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it’ [Mending Wall]
‘The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there’ [Mending Wall]
‘He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting’ [Out,Out]
‘I thought of questions that have no reply’ [Tuft]
‘I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain’ [Acquainted]
‘Let them think twice before they use their powers’ [Spring Pools]
‘What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?’ [Design]
‘I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass’ [Apple Picking]
‘It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood’ [Birches]

5. Frost explored the relationship between nature and human beings. Nature has emotional, spiritual or sensual effects:
‘Sheer morning gladness at the brim’ [Tuft]
‘A message from the dawn
That made me hear the wakening birds around’ [Tuft]
‘Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself’ [Mending Wall]
‘Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.’ [Out,Out]
‘Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off’ [Apple Picking]
‘There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall’ [Apple Picking]
‘So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be’ [Birches]
‘Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better’ [Birches]

6. Frost shows an awareness that all life is brief and that it either fades or ends abruptly. Life dies. He recognises that he too will die. His poetry shows that he, like many people, has a desire to fill his days with as much productive living as possible before that time comes.
‘The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag
Was once the beauty Abishag’ [Provide Provide]
‘I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence’ [Road]
‘Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all’ [Out, Out]
‘Little — less — nothing! — and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs’ [Out, Out]

‘Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers’ [Spring Pools]
‘Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth’ [Design]
‘For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired’ [Apple Picking]
‘One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is’ [Apple Picking]
‘May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return’ [Birches]
‘No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard
Or keeps the end from being hard’ [Provide Provide]

Poetic Techniques
Frost used literary techniques such as dialogue, first and third person narrative, personal reflection, figurative imagery and language, symbols and personification in his poems. He is a poet with immense variety of tone. He moves from exhilaration to black moods. There is an ironic voice in most of his poems. He used a good deal of laconic understatement. His poetry could be gentle or full of dread.
Sound Effects
The colour coding for sound repetition is as follows:

Alliteration is the repetition of first letters

Assonance is repetition of vowel sounds.

Internal Rhyme or Cross Rhyme or Conventional (end of line) Rhyme
Internal Rhyme is a word or sound rhyming within a line
Cross Rhyme is a word or sound rhyming across two or more lines

Consonance, including sibilance.
Consonance is repetition of consonant sounds. Sibilance is repetition of ‘s’ sounds

Consonance, Cross Rhyme and Internal Rhyme may incorporate Alliteration and Assonance.
Try to add your own further examples to those below.
If you refer to these techniques when answering on a poet, state their purpose in re-enforcing meaning or creating the language construct that a poem is. Present them as evidence of the poet’s craft.
The following are four sample analyses that you should try to repeat on other poems:

The poem ‘After Apple Picking’ contains abundant sound repetition. Consider the verbal music created by the two examples of alliteration [b and l], the line rhyme [in], the cross-rhyme [um and om], the internal rhyme [load] and the assonance [ee and ea] of the following quote. Note also the onomatopoeic effect of ‘rumbling’.
‘I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in’.
Note how 19 different ‘l’ sounds create a consonance in ‘Spring Pools’. Eleven of the ‘l’ sounds occur in the first four lines. The repetition of this melodious sound provides a sound effect that enhances the beauty of the description of nature. This consonance creates a mellifluous effect. This effect may also be labelled euphonic. Note also the fourteen soft ‘t’ sounds in the first two lines of the poem.
Note the near perfect balance of sounds in both halves of the following line from ‘Spring Pools’:
‘These flowery waters and these watery flowers’.
The line is split perfectly by the word ‘and’. The only changes in sound are the reversing of the word order and the switching of the ‘y’ and the ‘s’ endings. The line contains three internal rhymes [These, flower and water].
The poem has many other examples of consonance and musical effects that you can seek out.
Note the effective sibilance in this line from ‘Out, Out’.
There are five ‘s’ sounds in this line:
‘Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it’.
This sibilance emphasises the spreading of the scent in the breeze. It creates a musical effect. Note also how the assonance [ee] enhances the sensual effect.

Note how verbal music enhances the aural imagery of the following rhyming couplet from ‘A Tuft of Flowers’:
‘That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground’.
Consider the verbal music created by two examples of alliteration [m and h], the two examples of assonance [a and a, e and ea], the line rhyme [ound], the two cross-rhymes [hear and ing] and the sibilance[s, sc, th, s]. Some of these sound effects blend in to each other. Note how ‘hear’ in the second line is part of the alliterating, assonance and cross-rhyme effects. This sibilance is an example of onomatopoeia because this ‘s’ sound repetition reinforces the aural image of the whispering sound of the scythe.

There are many detailed examples of sound techniques illustrated in the poems on the Ordinary Level English web pages, Out Out, The Road Not Taken, Mending Wall.
Some of Frost’ poems are in blank verse. Some of his poems have a strict rhyming pattern. Some of his poems have variable rhyming without any pattern.
In ‘Out, Out’ there isn’t a regular rhyming scheme. There is a small amount of rhyming. The third and third last lines rhyme with ‘it’. The word ‘other’ in line four half rhymes with ‘ether’ in line twenty-eight. Lines eighteen and twenty end in the same word ‘hand’. This is an example where rhyming emphasises the word that is central to the narrative of the poem.
Otherwise ‘Out, Out’ is a blank verse paragraph.
Many of the longer narrative poems are written in blank verse paragraphs.
‘The Tuft of Flowers’ is written in rhyming couplets. This is typical of his early poems when he had a profound respect for traditional poetic practices.
The shorter lyric poems and sonnets on the course have a definite rhyming pattern. For example in ‘Spring Pools’, the pattern is ‘aacdcd, eeghgh’. In both stanzas, the first two lines form a couplet, then lines three and five and lines four and six rhyme. This intricate pattern reflects the symmetry between pool and sky that is the subject matter of the poem. The poem reflects nature’s regularity.
Rhythm is a complex aspect of Frost’s poetry. Mostly, writers of student notes make a brief reference to rhythm and leave it at that. But in a Frost poem, rhythm needs to be explained in detail.
Frost used rhythm to create meaning.
You’ve got to use your ear to judge the rhythm. So, read the poem aloud.
Frost had a complex attitude to rhythm. He claimed that he wanted to represent the rhythm of ordinary speech in his poems.
But he was also a conservative. That means that he tried to write poetry according to the rules of the great poets he had read.
In the past, most poets used the rhythm known as iambic pentameter.
The beat of each line is based on a unit of sound known as a foot. The iambic foot is by far the most common type of foot. The iambic foot has two syllables. The second syllable of the pair is the loudest. In other words, it is a stressed syllable. A line of poetry with five of these iambic feet is known as iambic pentameter. ‘Penta’ comes from the Greek word for five.
In traditional poetry, the most popular type of line had ten syllables. Usually such lines were divided into five pair of syllables for the purpose of beat or rhythm. This is the beat that Frost admired and tried to use in his poetry. You can see iambic pentameter in many of Frost’s lines.
Take ‘Mending Wall’ as an example of rhythm in Frost’s poetry. There is a regular rhythm created by the five beats per line.
Consider the opening line as an example of this rhythm or tempo:
‘Something…there is...that does…n't love… a wall’.
[Two syllables… Two syllables… Two syllables… Two syllables… Two syllables…]
This was the most common tempo or rhythm in poetry down through the ages. In this quoted line, there are two syllables per beat. The second syllable of each beat is loud or stressed. This type of rhythm is known as iambic pentameter.
In his early poetry, Frost kept to traditional rules of rhythm.
In his later poetry, he relied more on the rhythm of the voice in normal speech when writing his poetry.
Did traditional metre or rhythm decide the basic rhythm of ‘Mending Wall’?
Trust your ear to judge the rhythm.
To comment on rhythm, quote a typical line and show the rhythm that you hear in the line.
So, you should read or listen again to ‘Mending Wall’.
As well as the formal five even beats or iambic feet, your ear may hear a more natural rhythm.
The same line that was analysed just above can be read as a four beat line:
‘Something…there is...that doesn't love… a wall’.
[Two syllables…two syllables…four syllables…two syllables]
In this reading of the poem the stressed syllable may be any syllable—just trust your ear: ‘thing…is…love…wall. The voice emphasises the last syllable of each beat]
This way of reading the line is based on the human voice and ear as it deals with both the sound and meaning of the words. In fact, the human voice increasingly replaced formal poetic meter in Frost’s mature poetry.
You can find just the same pattern in reading to and listening to the rest of ‘Mending Wall’.
Consider line sixteen:
‘To each…the boulders…that have fallen… to each…’
[Two syllables…three syllables…four syllables…two syllables, with various syllables stressed—each...bould…fall…each]
In fact, while your trained eye may see the five beat rhythm, your ear is more likely to lead you to the four beat rhythm, especially if you read for meaning. You may also reach this conclusion just by sounding the poem out in your head. Try it.
Overall, Frost aspired towards a natural rhythm in the sounding out of his poems. Thus there are two contrasting rhythms, the silent formal metre and the natural beat of the reading voice.
Many of Frost's poems include an element of melancholy or regret. They contain feelings or sadness or longing that reflects the darker side of the poet. Considering the difficult childhood and life that he experienced, it is logical to conclude that poems with these attitudes were an outlet for his darker emotions - mostly of loneliness and loss. ‘Acquainted With the Night’ is a clear example of this tendency. In other poems Frost experiences the exhilaration of epiphany: a moment of deep spiritual insight as in ‘The Tuft of Flowers’.
Sombre: ‘I have been one acquainted with the night’ [Acquainted]
Cold and Empty: ‘Little – less – nothing! – and that ended it’. [Out, Out]
Brutal and Insensitive: ‘And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs’ [Out, Out]
Contemptuous or Sneering: ‘like an old-stone savage armed’. [Mending Wall]
Sarcastic or Mischievous: ‘My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines’ [Mending Wall]
Rueful or Sorry: ‘I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence’ [Road]
Philosophical: ‘I thought of questions that have no reply’ [Tuft]
Delighted and Exhilarated: ‘sheer morning gladness at the brim’ [Tuft] Alienated: ‘I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain’ [Acquainted]
Terrified: ‘When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street’ [Acquainted]
Grieving [Lamenting]:‘Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone’ [Spring]
Frightening and Morbid: ‘Assorted characters of death and blight’ [Design]
Weary: ‘But I am done with apple-picking now’ [Apple Picking]
Bewildered: ‘I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight’ [Apple Picking]
Sensual: ‘Essence of winter sleep is on the night, the scent of apples [A P]
Wonder; ‘You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen’ [Birches]
Mocking, Casual and Ironic: ‘But I was going to say when Truth broke in with all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm’ [Birches]
Despairing: ‘It's when I'm weary of considerations’ [Birches]
Nostalgic: ‘So was I once myself a swinger of birches [Birches]
Optimistic: ‘And so I dream of going back to be’ [Birches]
Longing: ‘I'd like to get away from earth awhile’ [Birches]
Ironic and Bitter: ‘The picture pride of Hollywood’ [Provide]
Whimsical: ‘If need be occupy a throne,
Where nobody can call you crone’ [Provide]
Bleak: ‘No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard’ [Provide]
Urgent: ‘Provide, provide’ [Provide]


Many of Frost’s images are descriptive or real images. A detailed analysis of this aspect of Frost’s poetry for three of his poems is available on the Ordinary Level English Page.
The following is just one of many examples in the remaining seven poems.
‘up by roots to bring dark foliage on’ [Spring Pools].
This image refers to a process known in your biology textbooks as transpiration. It is a real image from nature.
However in many of Frost’s poems, some descriptive or real objects from nature may have a symbolic meaning. Thus, the orchard of ‘Apple Picking’, the trees in ‘Birches’, the wall in ‘Mending Wall’, the butterfly and flowers in ‘The Tuft of Flowers’ are all real images. But, on a deeper level, they represent or symbolise abstract or spiritual ideas.
In ‘The Tuft of Flowers’, the butterfly is a symbol of the poet’s inquisitive and longing soul. The flowers represent natural beauty and human tenderness. The poem has a phrase that acts as a pointer to the deeper level of interpretation: ‘a message from the dawn’. Look out for these pointers when you read poetry.
In ‘Mending Wall’, the yelping dogs and the hunters are real. But the wall exists in two dimensions of meaning. It is a real boundary between two farms, as real as the yelping canines. But the words ‘elves’ and ‘something’ both suggest there may be a mysterious hidden meaning to the wall. The wall, which is restored annually, may signify the artificial codes, superstitions and traditions by which people separate and isolate themselves.
Here are some examples of symbolism in Frost’s poetry:
‘That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches’ [Birches]
‘a message from the dawn’ [Tuft]
‘A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite’ [Design]
‘One luminary clock against the sky’ [Acquainted]
‘a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough’ [Apple Picking]
Beside real images, some of which may be symbolic, there are many comparison images in Frost’s poetry. These are known as figurative images and can be separated into a number of categories. Please add your own discovered examples to the sample lists that follow:
‘The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag’ [Provide]
‘The buzz-saw snarled …’ [Out, Out]
‘A leaping tongue of bloom’ [Tuft]
‘And some are loaves and some so nearly balls’ [Mending Wall]
‘crystal shells shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust’ [Birches]

[This is an elaborate comparison and metaphor where some concrete object or process is used to illustrate an abstract reality, be it spiritual, emotional or philosophical]
‘I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again’ [Birches]
[An analogy is a simile or metaphor which functions as a parallel image]
‘Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun’. [for the bending trees in Birches]
This comparison of trees to girls can also be considered a Simile.
‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less travelled by’ [Road]
‘Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side’ [Mending Wall]
‘like an old-stone savage armed’ [Mending Wall]
‘holding up a moth like a white piece of rigid satin cloth’ [Design]
‘a flower like a froth’ [Design]
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’ [Mending Wall]
‘The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard’ [Out, Out]
‘As if to prove saws knew what supper meant’ [Out, Out]
Paradox [apparent contradiction]
The following image shows how each season is a product of the previous one, and how the approaching season negates the previous one:
‘Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday’ [Spring Pools]
‘I am overtired of the great harvest I myself desired’ [Apple Picking]
‘Alone…as all must be whether they work together or apart’ [Tuft]
‘ “Men work together,” I told him from the heart,
“Whether they work together or apart”.' [Tuft]

Logic (argument)
In Frost’s poetry he persuades us rather than argues. Frost uses imagery, symbols and analogy to convey his views. Frost is a narrative poet, and thus his many ideas are conveyed indirectly in most of his poetry. Some lines are argumentative and these help us to decode his images and symbols.
‘And that has made all the difference’ [Road]
‘Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows’ [Mending Wall]
‘Call it a day, I wish they might have said’ [Out, Out]
'Men work together,' I told him from the heart,
'Whether they work together or apart.' [Tuft]
‘Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better’ [Birches]
In addition to various techniques of sound, tone and imagery, there are many examples of different language techniques found in Frost’s poetry.
Pun (wordplay)
‘He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees’ [Mending Wall]
Compound Words
‘frozen-ground-swell’ [Mending Wall]
Hyperbole (exaggeration)
‘There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch’ [Apple Picking]
‘Little — less — nothing! — and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs’ [Out, Out]
[Allusion is reference to another work, or imitation of the words of another work. Frost used this device sparingly—he didn’t want to appear too scholarly]
Biblical Allusion:
‘they have left not one stone on a stone…’ [Mending Wall]
‘To each the boulders that have fallen to each…’ [Mending Wall]
‘looking through a pane of glass’ [alluding to an image of St. Paul in AP]
Allusion to Macbeth:
‘Out Out— ’ [Out, Out]
‘These flowery waters and these watery flowers’ [Spring Pools]
‘No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard’ [Provide Provide]
Conversational Language
‘Call it a day, I wish they might have said’ [a 10 monosyllable line from Out, Out]
‘As he went out and in to fetch the cows’ [a line of 10 monosyllables in Birches]
Poetic Syntax
[The word order is altered from the normal to emphasise descriptive details. In his early poetry, Frost did not always use everyday expression and rhythm, unlike in his later work]
‘But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly’ [Tuft]
‘Good fences make good neighbours’ [Mending Wall]
‘Alone…as all must be whether they work together or apart’ [Tuft]
Frost used the short traditional forms of lyric, sonnet and narrative. His long narrative poems consist of a single verse paragraph, without formal divisions. Here are some illustrative comments on form in Frost’s poems.
‘After Apple Picking’ is a free-verse dream poem with philosophical undertones.
‘Mending Wall’ demonstrates Frost's ability at lyrical verse, dramatic conversation, and ironic commentary.
‘The Road Not Taken’ and ‘Birches’ exemplify Frost's ability to join the pastoral and philosophical modes in lyrics of unforgettable beauty.
Frost is lyrical in his long narrative poems as well as in his shorter poems. Robert Frost
HOME/LIFE * born in California and lived there in early childhood * father died when Frost was 11 * after father died, his family moved to New England * mother was a school teacher * Frost graduated from high school in 1891 in Lawrence, Mass. * Frost shared position of valedictorian with Elinor White * married Elinor White in 1894 * he lived off the publication of his papers and books and taught and lectured at various colleges * he faced poverty * he and Elinor had four children * his first poem appeared in a New York periodical in 1894 * moved to London September 2, 1912, with wife and kids * returned to New Hampshire, where he remained until his death * endured tragedy: his son committed suicide, and his daughter had a mental breakdown EMILY DINSIN ThemesThough Dickinson's insights are profound, they are limited in topic. Northrup Frye points out, "It would be hard to name another poet in the history of the English language with so little interest in social or political events." She lived through the Civil War, yet her poems contain no clear references to that national trauma. Richard Howard comments wryly, "... there was only one event, herself." The idea of identity or, alternately, the failure of identity runs through her poetry. One form it takes is the achievement of status or the lack of status; repeatedly she uses terms like "queen," "royal," "imperial," and "lowly." Status can be achieved through crucial experiences, like love, marriage, death, poetic expression. She insisted on the need and the right of the individual to maintain integrity; one way of doing this was to exercise inflexible principle in selecting or making choices. In identifying themes, I briefly discuss one theme at a time and list poems which illustrate that theme. This approach may give the false impression that these themes are separate. In fact, two or more of these themes may occur in the same poem, and several themes are clearly connected, like pain and death. |

| Themes In Emily Dickinson's Poetry
A few themes occupied the poet: love, nature, doubt and faith, suffering, death, immortality - these John Donne has called the great granite obsessions of humankind.
Love: Though she was lonely and isolated, Emily appears to have loved deeply, perhaps only those who have "loved and lost" can love, with an intensity and desire which can never be fulfilled in the reality of the lovers' touch. Examples: #511, 478, 640.
Nature: A fascination with nature consumed Emily. She summed all her lyrics as "the simple news that nature told," (#441); she loved "nature's creatures" no matter how insignificant - the robin, the hummingbird, the bee, the butterfly, the rat (#1356 "The rat is the concisest tenant"). Only the serpent gave her a chill - #986. Other poems: #130, 214, 285, 318, 322, 328, 333, 526, 1463.)
Faith And Doubt: Emily's theological orientation was Puritan - she was taught all the premises of Calvinistic dogma - but she reacted strenuously against two of them: infant damnation and God's sovereign election of His own. There was another force alive in her time that competed for her interests: that was the force of literary transcendentalism. This explains a kind of paradoxical or ambivalent attitude toward matters religious. She loved to speak of a compassionate Savior and the grandeur of the Scriptures, but she disliked the hypocrisy and arbitrariness of institutional church. In one of her poems she approached God in prayer, but she could only worship, she could not pray (#564). At times she came to God in great confidence as in #1052. In another she addresses Him progressively as "Burglar, Banker, Father." (#49) There are other lyrics which express grave doubt as in # 338, 185 and 376. Other examples are #324,, 1207.
Pain And Sufferin: Emily displays an obsession with pain and suffering; there is an eagerness in her to examine pain, to measure it, to calculate it, to intellectualize it as fully as possible. Her last stanzas become a catalog of grief and its causes: death, want, cold, despair, exile. In #241, Emily says "I like a look of Agony." Examples # 252, 258, 650.
Death: Many readers have been intrigued by Dickinson's ability to probe the fact of human death. She often adopts the pose of having already died before she writes her lyric - #712 and 465. She can look straight at approaching death - # 1100 and 547. Other examples # 49, 182, 1078, 1624, 1732
Structural Patterns (from S. W. Wilson's "Structural Patterns in the Poetry of ED." American Literature 35: 53-59.)
Major pattern is that of a sermon: statement or introduction of topic, elaboration, and conclusion. There are three variations of this major pattern:
1. The poet makes her initial announcement of topic in an unfigured line (examples: #241, #329)
2. She uses a figure for that purpose (#318, #401).
3. She repeats her statement and its elaboration a number of times before drawing a conclusion (#324). -------------------------------------------------
Emily Dickinson is such a unique poet that it is very difficult to place her in any single tradition—she seems to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. Her poetic form, with her customary four-line stanzas, ABCB rhyme schemes, and alternations in iambic meter between tetrameter and trimeter, is derived from Psalms and Protestant hymns, but Dickinson so thoroughly appropriates the forms—interposing her own long, rhythmic dashes designed to interrupt the meter and indicate short pauses—that the resemblance seems quite faint. Her subjects are often parts of the topography of her own psyche; she explores her own feelings with painstaking and often painful honesty but never loses sight of their universal poetic application; one of her greatest techniques is to write about the particulars of her own emotions in a kind of universal homiletic or adage-like tone (“After great pain, a formal feeling comes”) that seems to describe the reader’s mind as well as it does the poet’s. Dickinson is not a “philosophical poet”; unlike Wordsworth or Yeats, she makes no effort to organize her thoughts and feelings into a coherent, unified worldview. Rather, her poems simply record thoughts and feelings experienced naturally over the course of a lifetime devoted to reflection and creativity: the powerful mind represented in these records is by turns astonishing, compelling, moving, and thought-provoking, and emerges much more vividly than if Dickinson had orchestrated her work according to a preconceived philosophical system.
Of course, Dickinson’s greatest achievement as a poet of inwardness is her brilliant, diamond-hard language. Dickinson often writes aphoristically, meaning that she compresses a great deal of meaning into a very small number of words. This can make her poems hard to understand on a first reading, but when their meaning does unveil itself, it often explodes in the mind all at once, and lines that seemed baffling can become intensely and unforgettably clear. Other poems—many of her most famous, in fact—are much less difficult to understand, and they exhibit her extraordinary powers of observation and description. Dickinson’s imagination can lead her into very peculiar territory—some of her most famous poems are bizarre death-fantasies and astonishing metaphorical conceits—but she is equally deft in her navigation of the domestic, writing beautiful nature-lyrics alongside her wild flights of imagination and often combining the two with great facility. Emily Dickinson
* Grandfather founded Amherst College. * Father, Edward Dickinson, was a prominent lawyer in Amherst, Massachusetts, as well as a U.S. representative. * was not close to her mother. * competed with her older brother, Austin, who also wrote poetry. * was close to her sister-in-law, Susan, with whom she baked cookies and spent "riotous" evenings (Smith 157) * came from a Congregationalist family and lived in a Congregationalist community. During her time in school, Dickinson wrote: "I am standing alone in rebellion" against Christianity. She never joined a church and didn't attend after age 30. Although her siblings were involved in local revivals, she resisted them. * read the Bible, George Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Keats, William Shakespeare, and sentimental literature. * cultivated a reputation as a local eccentric. * was never married. Difference between Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson
Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson are two well-known American poets who are often quoted and studied in literature classes. Both Frost and Dickinson suffered loss and depression during their lifetimes, but while Frost achieved great success and recognition as a poet, Dickinson's fame came largely posthumously.
Personal Life
Robert Lee Frost was born in 1874 and he died in 1963. Although he was born in California and grew up in the city, Frost is closely associated with rural New England where he lived later in his life. Frost produced much of his poetry while he was living in New Hampshire on a farm with his family. Frost worked as a teacher and lecturer.
During his lifetime, Frost suffered from many significant losses. His father died when Frost was just eleven, leaving behind only eight dollars for his family. Both Frost and his mother suffered from depression, as did his wife, and his daughter Irma spent time in a mental hospital. Of his six children, three died young and one committed suicide.
Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 and she died in 1886. She lived and died in Amherst, in Massachusetts. Dickinson led a secluded life and she was often considered an eccentric character by the local community, due to her reclusive nature and the way she dressed in white.
Robert Frost is known for writing about life in rural New England in the early 20th century. The use of colloquial forms of speech is also characteristic of his poetry. Frost's poems often explore complex themes of a philosophical and social nature. Frost also produced some prose writing and plays. His most famous works include Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and The Road Not Taken.
Emily Dickinson published some poems during her lifetime, but much of her work remained private until after her death. Dickinson's poetry is not representative of the time at which she was writing. She tends to use short lines, unconventional punctuation and capitalization and slant rhymes. Many of her works also lack titles. The works that were published by Dickinson were often adapted by the publishers to make them more conventional. Dickinson's poems vary a great deal in their themes, styles and content. Her most famous works include Because I Could Not Stop For Death.
Frost is a famous American poet who is widely known and often quoted and referenced in popular culture. During his lifetime, Frost was awarded four Pulitzer Prizes.
Unlike Frost, Dickinson achieved little success during her lifetime. Although a number of her poems were published, most remained private until they were discovered by Dickinson's sister, Lavinia, after Emily had died. The first collection of Dickinson's poems was published through the efforts of two of Dickinson's acquaintances, Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, in 1886. However, these poems were heavily edited. It was not until 1955 that a complete and fairly unedited collection was published. Dickinson's reputation as a poet has been challenged, but she is now generally considered to be an important American poet. |

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